‘Moving to cloud’ is a phrase that’s often used as though it’s a single step. For all but the smallest organisations, it is very unlikely to be so. Cloud comes in many shapes and forms, and implementing it is not simply a process of taking an existing service and handing it over to a cloud provider. Instead, deciding to move one or more services from the in-house provision, third party hosting or a managed service to some cloud is likely to be just the first step in a journey. The desired end point may be to consume public cloud SaaS, but there may be intermediate stages such as a virtual private cloud, using an intermediate provider to host legacy applications or buying service management from a hosting provider until the appropriate skills are developed in-house. This process needs to be repeated for each of the IT services an organisation consumes.
Decide on your destination
The first step in the journey is to understand your organisation’s current IT capabilities (the start of the trip), align them with your strategic goals, and define what IT services and capability your organisation needs to deliver these goals (the next destination). A good place to begin is a business and IT alignment review to define the service levels you need for the key operational processes that IT supports in your organisation to realise any misalignment or gaps in provision and to understand their impact plus cost, performance and availability implications.
Cloud provides standardised, commodity services that are consumed in a standard fashion using standard processes. You may need to adapt or modify your current IT operational processes to maximise the benefit of using the cloud, particularly if you want to use the public cloud, as all the major public cloud providers have defined, standard processes and you are unlikely to be able to persuade them to change them to suit your organisation. Most cloud providers follow ITIL processes and offer user self-service for some or all elements of the service, so it is likely that your existing incident processes can easily be adapted.
Plan your route
The next stage designs: mapping and aligning the journey against your business requirements. Having defined what services are needed, you now need to decide which ones can usefully be provided via the cloud. You also have to decide how much work you want to do for each service. If you choose Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), you will still have to do a lot of the work; slightly less with Platform as a Service (PaaS); and not much with Software as a Service (SaaS), although you will still have to retain responsibility for ensuring your cloud provider meets the agreed SLAs.
You may want to retain core business applications in-house, but move non-core or commodity services to the cloud. Most organisations will want to hand over responsibility for areas where they do not have the skills in-house or cannot justify the cost of employing specialists, such as a storage system, backup management or security systems. There are a multitude of cloud providers, with significant differences in the contractual terms and conditions, available SLAs and recompense if these are not met, the legal jurisdictions where data is held and data recovery terms.
For larger, more complex organisations, a current optimum solution could be a hybrid of public cloud, managed cloud and in-house or private cloud. Few of the cloud services currently available offer the ability to easily transfer legacy applications and all the associated data onto them, and so for these you will probably need to use the private cloud or managed IaaS as a staging point until more appropriate public cloud services become available (see our previous article https://www.comparethecloud.net/articles/moving-legacy-applications-safely-cloud/).
Take your team with you
The next stage of the journey is migration, which requires planning, dedicated resources, clearly defined and understood success criteria, a test plan and if you do not have the skills in-house, external expertise to assist with the process.
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With cloud, there is one further element, your people, who are a more significant factor with cloud than in a ‘traditional’ infrastructure migration. Simplistically, cloud services replace services running inside your datacentres; if you have teams of staff currently running or managing these services they will perceive it is not that good for them, so you need to factor this in. This can be where outside expertise is invaluable, working with companies who have helped with these issues before.
It is vital to get people throughout your organisation on board – not just commitment from the top but support from the team at the coal face. Change is always difficult and particularly with the cloud, as staff will be worried that their jobs are at risk so may not fully commit to the project.
You may be moving to the cloud because you have problems in your IT service delivery. If people are going to support the project, there must be something in it for them, which means job security, new skills and hopefully recognition and increased salary. There may be team members for whom the project does not offer anything. If this is the case managers should address it at the start of the process so that it does not have an adverse impact at a later stage. Communication is also vital. Too much is never enough, as your staff will always assume the worst when there is silence. Keep them informed throughout the change process.
Moving to the cloud is a more complex transition than other infrastructure change projects, particularly if most of your organisation’s IT services are currently provided in-house. The key to delivering it effectively is to understand what you want to achieve and why build alignment across all the people involved and understand the costs and implications before making the change. While it isn’t easy, good things never are, and by carefully planning the journey cloud can provide significant benefits to your business operations.